How to answer “What do you do?” if you’re unemployed

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I was grateful to be reminded recently that when you’re asked “What do you do?” often the best answer isn’t to talk about your job. Here’s sage advice from Penelope Trunk on “How to answer the question, ‘What do you do?'”:

1. Understand the question.
Assume there is no hidden, evil agenda. Assume the person asking simply wants to know more about you. Of course, only people who have a good answer to the question themselves end up asking the question of others, but still, it’s a reasonable question.

2. Focus on a differentiator.
The problem with getting to know someone is that if you ask people, “What’s important to you?” you won’t learn anything. Because 90% of people will say things like family, friends, learning, being kind, or other routine things — the things, actually, that are on my refrigerator, in the first photo.

You get to know more about a person by asking how they spend their time. Because, while we all have similar goals (really, I bet the same few New Years Resolutions are made by 80% of all people) we all try to reach them in different ways….

3. Don’t focus on your job.
This is not a job interview—it’s an attempt to get to know you so the person can connect with you. So you don’t need to go straight to your job for an answer. Some people have a job that does define them. Some people do not. Once you realize you can go either way on this, you can come up with the best answer for you.

4. Focus on where you spend your time and energy.
If you work at Starbuck’s to support your marathon training, you can say you’re training for a marathon. That is interesting and will immediately spark a fine conversation. Plus, you show that you are someone worth getting to know—you set challenging goals for yourself and you work hard to meet them.

5. Focus on what you are learning.
A career is not an earning path, it’s a learning path. So if you tell someone what you are learning about now, they will not actually care what your job is. What you choose to learn, and what interests you, actually says way more about you than the type of job you have. Some people learn a lot on their jobs, some people learn more away from their jobs. Where you learn is not as important as what you learn.

If you’re unemployed, it’s especially important to consider your response to the question thoughtfully. Have something prepared so you can make the most of the opportunity when the networking occasion arises.

Automatically responding, “I’m between jobs right now,” isn’t the best way to bond with someone who might be inclined to help a new friend with tips, advice, or by sharing contacts. Instead, you might try focusing on a positive thing you’re learning or working towards while tacking on, “while I’m looking for a new position as a ___.”

What are some of the most common interview questions?

Writing-wolf-job-interviewOne key step in preparing for interviews is to prepare and practice your replies for common questions. Here are 35 questions that might come up:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why are you leaving your current employer? Or: Why did you leave your last job?
  3. What experience do you have in this field?
  4. What are the top duties you perform in your current position?
  5. What types of decisions do you frequently make?
  6. What is the most important project or suggestion you’ve initiated in your career?
  7. What do co-workers say about you?
  8. What do you know about our company?
  9. Why are you the best candidate for this position?
  10. What have you done to improve your knowledge/skills in the last year?
  11. Are you applying for other jobs?
  12. Why do you want to work for this organization?
  13. Do you know anyone who works for us?
  14. What kind of salary do you expect?
  15. If you had enough money to retire right now, what would you do?
  16. Have you ever been fired?
  17. Why should we hire you?
  18. Tell me about a suggestion you have made that made things better.
  19. What is your greatest strength?
  20. How do you adapt to frequent changes on the job?
  21. What are you looking for in a job?
  22. What kind of person would you refuse to work with?
  23. What would your previous supervisor say your strongest point is?
  24. Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor.
  25. Agree or disagree: Working well under pressure is one of my strengths.
  26. What motivates you?
  27. Are you willing to work overtime? Nights? Weekends?
  28. Would you be willing to relocate if required?
  29. What have you learned from mistakes on the job?
  30. How do you do at multi-tasking while maintaining the quality of your work?
  31. Tell me about a time when you helped resolve a dispute between others.
  32. Describe your work ethic.
  33. Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.
  34. What questions do you have?
  35. When can you start?

Some of these questions were written by Wayne D. Ford, Ph.D.

Improve one thing in your workplace to advance your career

improve-one-thingGood workplace communication doesn’t come naturally to a whole lot of us. We need to take the time to understand the do’s and don’ts in order to be successful in our place of work and to advance. Sometimes this means learning when to shut up and other times it can mean learning how to avoid getting emotionally overcome by difficult conversations. These are just a few of the problem areas.

A common irritant in office conversations is frankly when one party doesn’t know when to shut up. In “How To Determine When A Conversation Is Over”, the Accidental IT Leader blog says:

Just as knowing when a conversation with your boss has reached its end, so too is it important that you know how to communicate to your team that a conversation or IT team building session with you is now over. You can use all of the same techniques that your boss uses with you to wrap your own conversations up.

Another great way to place bounds on the conversations that you have with your team has to do with what you do at the start. Before the conversation starts, let everyone involved know that you have limited time. If you tell them when you need to start to work on something else, then you can wrap up the conversation when that time arrives.

Sometimes a more direct approach is called for. There will be times that the person that you are talking with is just not getting any of the “wrap it up” signals that you are sending to them. When this happens, you need to be forthright. You can say something like ‘‘I have really enjoyed the conversation, but I am sure we both have a lot we need to get done.’’ This is direct, to the point, and you’ll get your message across.

Another problem plaguing workplace conversations happens when one party loses control owing to a “hook”. In “Difficult Conversations: Nine Common Mistakes”, an article on Harvard Business Review says:

Mistake #6: We get “hooked.”
Everyone has a weak spot. And when someone finds ours – whether inadvertently, with a stray arrow, or because he is hoping to hurt us – it becomes even harder to stay out of the combat mentality. Maybe yours is tied to your job – you feel like your department doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Or maybe it’s more personal. But whatever it is, take the time to learn what hooks you. Just knowing where you’re vulnerable will help you stay in control when someone pokes you there.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers a list of 10 tips to improve your workplace communication for people interested in advancing their Seattle careers.

To better understand the best practices for workplace communication, a good resource is “Communication in the Workplace” on About.com

Write a blog post, win your dream job

yammer (1)Blogs are increasingly playing a role in the hiring process, allowing employers to spot talent at a distance based on what they know and how they communicate it.

Case in point: Allison Michels, a training manager for Yammer (now part of Microsoft), won her job on account of a single blog post. She writes:

Can writing a blog post change your life? Allison Michels, a training manager for Yammer, is a testament to the power of social media. Having a point of view and expressing it got her a job.

In a previous role with another company, Allison fell in love with Yammer. She saw its potential to connect people throughout the workplace, and collaborate in new and ever-easier ways. A higher-up disagreed, and the use of Yammer was terminated.

Allison loved her job, but she was saddened by the managerial decision. She took her disappointment to the blogosphere. On her blog, “Doing More,” Allison ranted about the shortsightedness of the manager’s decision. Allison’s bold stance caught the attention of David Sacks, Yammer’s founder and CEO. In a tweet to Allison, he wrote: “You seem like an enthusiastic employee whose work is being underappreciated. Do you want to come work for us?”

From a professional point of view, the decision was simple. But the moment in her personal life was not: Allison and her husband had just bought a house on the East Coast; Yammer is based in San Francisco.

In her own words, Allison shares how an openness to life’s surprises, along with some social media savvy, can make work-life integration an excellent adventure.

Read the whole article.

At The Ladders’s blog, you can find examples of workers who were helped by blogging and others who were hurt. A success story:

As you cite critical sources and make intelligent, important observations, your personal blog augments your position within your company and promotes your company. You never bash your company. You can be yourself and be authentic. James P., a salesman, asked for permission from his company to comment on his business travels and business adventures as a technology sales consultant. Customers love the funny, idiosyncratic stories. James says, “My blog has been a business generator for the company and earned me four speaking engagements on behalf of the company and four speaking engagements locally that were sponsored by local sales networking organizations. I can’t believe it. It’s made me kind of recession proof in my career!” His first book is being self-published, and his company uses him to teach and train all new sales personnel.

Read more.

How to create a pitch that gets results

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Create the perfect pitch and you give yourself an enormous edge in the job search. Whether you do this by yourself or with the help of a career professional, it’s important that you put your self-knowledge into effective and concise words.

Heather R. Huhman offers 5 tips for doing this beginning with having confidence in who you are. She writes:

1. Figure out who you are.

First and foremost, you need to know who you are as a professional. Take a look at your work ethic, interests, character, strengths, and weakness, and combine these into a description of who you are.

Job seekers who are confident in their interests, passions, skills, and abilities are more likely to stand out to employers. If you know who you are as a professional, you’ll better illustrate these qualities when you apply for jobs and network with employers.

2. Know your strongest skills and experience.

Your strongest skills and experience are what will get you in the door at a company. Make sure you don’t overlook a combination of your hard and soft skills because employers want to hire well-rounded candidates.

Once you know your strengths, find ways to weave them into all aspects of your job search. For example, if you’re sending out a networking email, don’t hesitate to share with a recruiter some of your latest work. Be careful you don’t do this in a manner where it sounds like you’re bragging. You want to show employers what you can do and how it will add value to their organization if they hired you.

Read the whole article.

In a separate article, she focuses on how to create the perfect “elevator pitch”. A big no-no: sounding robotic.

Recruiters hear elevator pitches all the time, and many of them sound so similar, it’s difficult for them to put a face to each one. When crafting your pitch, making it professional is important, but using down-to-earth language that reflects your personality gives potential connections a sense of who you are as a person.

Practicing your elevator pitch is critical, but people often start to sound robotic and unauthentic in an effort to recite it perfectly. Instead of memorizing your pitch like a script, have an outline and structure of what you’re going to say and touch on each point. You may think you’ll be too nervous to pull it off, but talking about yourself is much easier than you’d expect.

Read the entire article.

Glassdoor and Instagram: Emerging technology tools for the job search

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Glassdoor and Instagram are among the latest technology tools changing the way people research and find jobs. The first offers a large database of employer reviews available for searching and the other is allowing some people to give a personal touch to their professional side.

According to Glassdoor.com:

Glassdoor holds a growing database of 6 million company reviews, CEO approval ratings, salary reports, interview reviews and questions, office photos and more. Unlike other jobs sites, all of this information is entirely shared by those who know a company best — the employees. Add to that the latest jobs and the ability to see Inside Connections at companies via your Facebook network — no other community allows you to see which employers are hiring, what it’s really like to work there according to employees, and who you may know at a particular company all in one place.

Employment Guide recently explained that 48% of respondents to a recent survey said they used Glassdoor in their job search. The reviews are helping job seekers make informed decisions before the interview and after landing a job offer. The article says:

One of the most useful tools according to 48% of job seekers was the employee review tab. Surveyed job seekers said reviews posted in the last six months had the biggest impact on their views of the company. Check for any recent negative ratings, along with the ratings regarding benefits and compensation to ensure they’re in line with your expectations. Be cautious when all posts about an employer are completely positive. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Conversely, if all of the posts are negative, don’t assume that it is a terrible company to work for. Typically, if someone has a bad experience, they’ll utilize the internet as their soapbox to vent their dissatisfaction. Read the remarks, and if you’re concerned about anything, ask some pointed questions during an interview to gain a clearer understanding of the company.

Another social website is the popular photo sharing site Instagram, which is rivaling Facebook in popularity among some groups of young people. In “Instagram changes the rules for job search”, Seattle Times writer Randy Woods says:

Launched in 2010 as a simple image-sharing app, Instagram was elevated to business-tool status after it was purchased by Facebook in 2012. With its ability to tie images instantly into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other social media accounts, Instagram has made it easier for job seekers to market themselves and for recruiters to discover talent.

Woods also offers tips for figuring out if you’re someone who can benefit from Instagram and how to get more out of the tool. For example, he says persons with more conservative occupations such as accounting may not be the best users of Instagram.